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Burnett v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division

April 15, 2015

DEVEREAUX BURNETT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

RECOMMENDATION

CHARLES H. WEIGLE, Magistrate Judge.

This is a review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff Devereaux Burnett's application for benefits. In accordance with the analysis below, it is RECOMMENDED that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff applied for Title II benefits in April 2010, alleging disability due to hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and affective and mood disorders. (Doc. 8, p. 1). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration, (R. 86-88), and on November 15, 2012, a hearing was held before a reviewing Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 43-83). On November 27, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (R. 14-35). The Appeals Council denied review on April 18, 2014, and Plaintiff now seeks review before this Court, arguing that the ALJ did not pose complete hypotheticals and that the ALJ's treatment of the opinions of Dr. Harvey Jones, a treating physician, and Dr. William F. McDaniel, a consultative psychologist, is too vague to permit meaningful judicial review. Because the record does not support Plaintiff's arguments, and because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it is recommended that the Court affirm.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to a determination of whether that decision is supported by substantial evidence, as well as whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winschel v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 1176, 1178 (11th Cir. 2011). "Substantial evidence" is defined as "more than a scintilla, " and as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. The Eleventh Circuit has explained that reviewing courts may not decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute their judgment for that of the Commissioner. Id. Rather, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, that decision must be affirmed even if the evidence preponderates against it.

EVALUATION OF DISAIBLITY

Social Security claimants are "disabled" if they are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

The Social Security Regulations outline a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled: "(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of impairments; (4) based on a residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience." Winschel, 631 F.3d at 1178 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v); 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v)).

DISABILITY EVALUATION IN THIS CASE

Following the five-step sequential evaluation process, the reviewing ALJ made the following findings in this case. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from October 15, 2009, his alleged onset date, through December 31, 2010, his date last insured. (R. 16). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments through his date last insured: "hypertension, diabetes, degenerative lumbar disc disease, lumbago, obesity, tendonosis of [the] left shoulder, a somatoform disorder, and a mood disorder associated with depression and anxiety." (R. 16). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equaling the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. 15). Therefore, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's RFC and determined that, during the relevant period, Plaintiff could perform (R. 18):

[L]ight work... with some exceptions. Specifically, the claimant needed to rotate positions frequently, and he should have performed no more than occasional stooping, crouching or overhead reaching with his non-dominant left arm and hand. In addition, the claimant must not [ sic ] have worked in a temperature-controlled environment, and he should not have had any exposure to industrial hazards. Finally, the claimant could have performed only simple tasks, and he should have had no more than occasional and casual contact with the general public.

At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work during the relevant period. (R. 33). At step five, though, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could have performed the requirements of representative occupations like "small product assembler, II, " "mail clerk, " and "office helper." (R. 34). As a result, the ...


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